The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ramblings from a Sleep Deprived Writer

Or, how I’m really not writing my novel right now, but still pretending I am…

I’ve written myself into this very strange place. I’m not sure how I got here or how I’ll get out, but I’m here right now and I feel I must continue on. I think it would be easier if I’d written Tea – my protagonist – into the corner, but it turns out it’s actually me. No, I’m not my protagonist; but I am the writer and have borrowed from my past – and present – for this novel. It took me about 8,000 words before I had to borrow from my past (although in retrospect, I did it in the first 1,000 without realizing it).

Tea is 17 and the novel takes place the summer between her junior and senior year of high school. Alas, I don’t really remember high school that much. Not that anything bad happened to me there; in fact I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, but apparently I’m older than the hills or something and high school memories are fading fast – almost as fast as that cliché.

This is what I do when I get stuck in my story and need some younger-than-my-current-age interaction and dialogue. I write down a memory from when I WAS that age and then go back and re-write it to show what’s happening – instead of just telling it. I add dialogue and descriptions and honestly make up a lot of the stuff that probably never really happened; because that’s what writers do after all. And then once it is all done I can usually pick right up in my story, maybe using a line, description or small idea from my recent, made up memory and plug it into the action. So far, this scenario has been working out well. It means I don’t stop writing when I’m stuck and I can use some of the overlooked memories for later characters and novels.

There is a side effect as well, the more I write about the experiences I had in high school, the more I remember them. Entire conversations come flooding back into almost perfect clarity – things I wore, things I thought, things I never told people. It’s honestly bizarre, especially reliving these escapades from my adult view point – which has changed quite a bit since high school. I’ve thought about people I haven’t thought about in…I’m counting on my fingers, hold on…15 years or so. When did I get so old?

The problem: Here I sit, writing away, on my own personal journey, forgetting all about Tea and her teammates trying to solve a murder in their grocery store, those poor people. They haven’t figured out who the real killer is which means John is rotting away in jail after confessing to a crime he didn’t commit…all while I’m worried about who I’ve forgotten from high school. I know I’m making this sound like high school doesn’t matter – which is silly because the large majority of my readers ARE high school students or teachers – but I have a point about high school, I promise.

About halfway through one such writing exercise I remembered someone I haven’t thought about in years. Someone who IS very similar to one of the characters in my story – apparently I’ve subconsciously written in a friend from high school. Then I realized I never thought of him as a friend when we were in high school, but I think of him that way now. Not because I talk to him now (as far as I know, we haven’t talked since the late ‘90s) and our relationship is that much stronger, but because we actually WERE friends in high school. Just by remembering all of the time we spent together, all of the things we shared, and some of the conversations we had, my adult self realizes we were fairly close for a time.

I don’t really keep in touch with many friends from high school – the ones I actually realized before today were friends I mean – oh, many of them are now facebook friends, but that doesn’t really count, does it? Anyway, most of these people friended me (and if any of you are reading this, I’m glad you did). If you know me at all you know my two closest friends have been my closest friends since the second grade, making today’s writing epiphany a little odd. Here is another paradox – I don’t necessarily consider those two friends high school friends – Amy, Stacy and I transcend all of that somehow. Sure we knew each other in high school but we each did our own thing – some of our friends overlapped and we spent a ton of time together outside of school – but that’s never been who we are.

I thought about this guy – who I now realize was a friend in high school – and I suddenly wanted to know what he was doing now, as an adult. I wanted to see what adulthood had changed or nurtured in him. If, like me, looking back on his high school experience illuminated some part of his adult character: Is high school a time to remember and learn from, or do we all just start to forget about it after our mid twenties? Of course it didn’t just stop with one person. I’d just finished writing out a memory involving four people by name, am I in contact with any of those people now? No, I’m not. So what are they all doing? I guess this is why exists – possibly even twitter – don’t hold your breath, I’m not joining either of those social networks anytime soon. Twitter is just a bad Doctor Who episode waiting to happen!

I did some digging on my preferred social networks and found out a lot of interesting stuff in under an hour. This is both cool and creepy (see previous Dr Who comment). I’m not sure I want someone sitting around wondering about me and then finding out everything they need to know just by clicking a button. Obviously I must be OK with it to a point or I wouldn’t have a blog, but still! See how I’ve not only written myself into a corner but I’ve completely stopped working on my novel today.

And what did I discover in the end? I told you I had a point, way to keep reading. I’m not really sure if this is a big reveal or not, but I discovered I like writing YA and mid-grade because I DO think it matters. I’m hoping kids and students will get something out of their current situations, maybe get a leg up on where I was at your age; and I’m hoping adults will remember something meaningful they’ve forgotten from their childhood or teen years. Maybe we all have a forgotten friend or teacher who helped shape our adult selves and reading one of my books will plant a seed in your subconscious; a seed I hope grows into a beautiful memory.

Or, if you aren’t as sappy as I am, then here’s some startling facts I learned in my hour of research on high school classmates – maybe this will inspire you.

Startling facts about people Mariah went to high school with:

  • At least 12 are now teachers – two in our old high school.

  • At least 8 were, or still are, professional athletes or college/pro coaches (this is utterly ridiculous, apparently I went to Jock High)

  • At least 10 are in bands – from garage bands to Harry Connick Jr.’s orchestra and everywhere in between (I was in the marching band, so this number is probably higher – but I stopped counting at 10. I can go see at least 5 of these people in upcoming concerts; I’m on the fence about this).

  • 8 are – or soon will be – medical doctors. With another 5 earning PhDs in some other field. (Some of these are married to each other – you are all making way too much money!)

  • 1 is a magician.

  • 1 is an actress in movies and television shows I’ve bet you’ve seen. She’s also a stage actress in NYC.

  • 1 had his house torn down and rebuilt by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team – it was the season premiere house this season.

  • 1 ran for the Mayor of Bloomington in the last election. It’s not a small town – alas, he did not win.

  • 1 is working for some government agency or embassy (The fact that I found this out on-line means I hope she’s not a field agent and our national security is a little stronger that that).

  • 1 is an Army Ranger (on-line did not tell me where he is stationed so a little more at ease about this whole national security thing).

  • At least 2 others are published authors (one of those is published in Welsh, which is an entirely different language with lots of double letters, and therefore gets extra kudos from me. Way to go Chris!)

  • 4 are social workers.

  • 3 are pilots.

  • 3 are currently trying to adopt (my fingers are crossed for you Morgan!).

  • 5 are expats currently living abroad at least semi-permanently (Yes, this includes the guy published in Welsh. I think you have to live in Wales to understand the language, let alone write in it).

  • At least 4 others have blogs (You guessed it; one of those blogs is at least partly in Welsh).

  • 1 – ME – discovered if my husband and I do have any children they can be duo-citizens because he is a British expat living in the US (this makes me happy, but does not mean I will be having those babies any time soon – no breath holding again. And yes, I looked that up in the hour allotted as well!)

  • 10 people married their high school sweethearts (Scary. I don’t remember that many people from high school, I can’t imagine finding marriage love there).

  • 1 – ME again – just sheepishly realized that she a) really fell in love for the first time her senior year of high school and b) met her husband her senior year of high school and c) a & b are two different guys.

  • At least 6 people are no longer with us (I’m sure this number is higher – social networking is not really a good tool for things like death, cancer and other life taking illnesses. We really try to be happy and upbeat while we network on the internet).

  • I stopped counting marriages, divorces and babies – I’m guessing these match national statistics.

And that was just in an hour, imagine what three hours would produce! I’m done with my ramblings, I’m going back to write some more about Teagan and her SuperMug exploits. I’ll tell you what – her character arc just got a whole lot bigger!

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